I have a deal with my local butcher. He butchers a cow a week and when he isn’t interested in keeping and preparing the beef tongue himself, he gives me a call and I pay low end market costs on it. He makes a few bucks, and I get one of the most special cuts of meat available every 5 or 6 weeks. It’s a part of the animal that isn’t in high market demand. So for the both of us, it’s a win-win scenario.
How does someone get into beef tongue, you may ask. Totally valid question! Most people make a face and ask questions like, “Why?!” or, “How do you even..?!” when they hear me talk about the mouthwatering meals that can be put together with the tongue meat of an animal. Tongue (or lengua in Spanish) just so happens to be a very unique and special piece of meat. You’ll soon see why.
Beef tongue (or any meat animal tongue for that matter) is truly a one of a kind slab of meat. Roughly 72% of the calories in tongue are from fats! Cooking the meat for long periods of time tenderizes it to almost a pull-apart texture. The flavor is naturally sweet, and can be manipulated to take on many subtle flavors from spices and marinades.
How I like to prepare tongue
In this post I prepare an Elk tongue, making Lengua Tacos. This particular tongue was given to me by a friend for helping pack a bull elk out of the North Dakota badlands during a once-in-a-lifetime draw hunt. I am a big believer in using all available parts of an animal and knowing that the rest of the animal was in good hands, I was happy to leave with just that.
Obviously most folks aren’t able to easily get their hands on an elk tongue- but if you can, by all means make it happen. It should be clarified that most tongues from meat animals will be essentially the same. The beauty is that for any tongue you can acquire, this recipe will be a great fit. Ask your butcher, or local carniceria, for a tongue. You will be pleasantly surprised to be able to put this dish together and enjoy with friends and family.
A tongue will weigh roughly 3 pounds on average for a beef, and about the same for my case in this recipe with the elk. I prefer the marathon cooking method. The best outcome will come from a 24-48 hour long cooking period in the water bath. Once cooked, it will need to be chilled in an ice bath and then peeled before the final steps.
Prepares 6-8 tacos per tongue.
To start, heat water bath to 170°F.
Set your Lengua seasonings and ingredients aside. I used:
- 1 Elk Tongue (as mentioned earlier, Beef Tongue for most people)
- Kosher salt
- Ground pepper
- Chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce
- Bacon grease
- 2oz Bourbon
Aside from seasonings for the meat, gather your favorite taco ingredients. Things you may or may not want to include: avocado/guacamole, cilantro, onion, peppers, salsa, tomatoes, sour cream, cheese, hot sauce, tortillas, lettuce.. etc.
The first step of tongue preparation is to give it a quick once-over cleaning and rinse. I often trim any of the prickly looking soft rubbery seeming parts around the edge before seasoning.
Once it’s cleaned you should let it air dry for 10 minutes or so (patting dry works as well and can be quicker). I start to season by rubbing bacon grease over the surfaces of the tongue to allow seasonings to adhere to the dry surface. Liberally season with the kosher salt and ground pepper.
At this point place the seasoned tongue in the cooking bag. Once in the bag, I add 4-5 adobo chipotles and about 3oz of the adobo sauce from the can of chipotles. To finish off I add the shot of bourbon to help tenderize.
Now that the tongue is cleaned, seasoned, and all ingredients are in the bag- time to seal it up.
Cooking the Tongue
With the water bath set to 170°F, place the bagged tongue in and prepare to be anxious. I recommend cooking the tongue for at least 24 hours, but my personal preference is 40 hours. Depending on your schedule and when you’re able to start the bath and when you plan on eating (lunch, dinner) the tongue, plan ahead to end the cook sometime between 24 and 48 hours.
Long cook times can be, well.. hard to time. I’ve done it starting at 8pm on Friday night, and ending the bath at 12 noon on Sunday (40 hours). I have also done this at 6pm on a Tuesday and finished the water bath at 8am on Thursday morning (38 hours). All you need to do once the bath is completed is drop it in an ice bath for 5 minutes and you’re ready to get back to processing.
Remove tongue from bag, but save the contents of the bag! Do not discard! Pour the adobo liquid and chipotle peppers in a skillet to be used for the final cooking step. Start to bring the skillet to a simmer while you work on the tongue in the next couple of steps.
Final Processing of the Tongue
A few short steps remain before you can start building sensational lengua tacos. The first step after rapidly cooling the tongue, is to peel it.
Yep. Peeling a tongue. At this juncture in the cooking process you’re probably not having anymore strange feelings about the whole ‘tongue’ deal. Maybe a little, okay, but peeling the tongue is no big deal. It will come off easily and will be akin to a very thin leather sheath. You can cut longways and peel the tongue one half at a time, or just grab the edges and start to remove the skin that way. Discard peeled skin.
After peeling, we are at step two: chop and dice.
Braise the tongue!
Now that we’ve peeled and diced the meat, we can add it to the bubbling skillet for the final step. Using the liquids from the bag as well as the remaining chipotle peppers, we are going to braise the diced tongue and absorb into the pieces all the goodness that was left in the bag.
You’ve done it. Nice work. Now all thats left is to share and enjoy with friends and family!
And clean up, of course.
If you want to find this recipe in .pdf form – here you go ELK LENGUA TACOS